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Custom Feedlot Makes “Humus” From Manure
Olsen Custom Farms of Hendricks, Minn., has invested nearly $1 million in a composting system that promises a more efficient and profitable way of converting cattle manure from their 3,500-head feedlot into crop fertilizer. The system produces “humus compost” with 40 percent less moisture than wet manure. When applied to cropland at rates as low as 1/2 to 1 ton/acre, it can provide benefits similar to uncomposted manure applied at much higher rates.
Manure from the feedlot is hauled to a nearby 14-acre, clay-lined composting site. It’s piled in 36 separate windrows, each measuring 14 ft. wide at the base, 6 1/2 ft. high and 160 ft. long. Windrows start as pairs, then are combined after 6 weeks when volume is reduced by half. Rows are checked daily for temperature, moisture and CO2, then turned, sometimes daily, using an Aeromaster PT-170 compost turner.
The turner is pulled through the windrow at a snail’s pace speed of just 1/3 mph. The turner aerates and blends the material and adds water, clay and inoculant microbes. The turner drum rotates at 150 to 300 rpm. Material temperature is monitored daily with the goal of maintaining it at 130 to 160 degrees.
“The inoculants, along with 10 to 15 percent added clay by volume, help transform the material into humus, the dark organic material that forms in soil when plant and animal matter decays,” says Kurt Dagel, the lead agronomist at Olsen Custom Farms. He says they’ve obtained a research grant to study the nutrient benefits of the humus compost on various crops. Since the composting system is new, they’ll be spreading the finished product for the first time on seed oats and soybean fields following harvest this summer and fall. Over time, Dagel says they’ll be able to determine optimum humus-compost application rates for different crops. He expects that optimum application rates may range from 1/2 to 2 tons/acre.
Dagel is excited by the nutirent profile of the finished humus product, which will be rich in micronutrients and will deliver 900 lbs. of carbon per ton to the soil. “By adding that much carbon to the soil, we will improve the cation-exchange capacity and also improve the soil’s moisture-holding capacity,” he says. “We’re building up the soil so much more than the standard practice of simply applying N-P-K in mineral form.”
Their current plan is to apply the humus compost to 25 to 30 percent of Olsen Custom Farms’ crop acres. At the same time, the company will be researching other markets for the humus-compost finished product, including marketing the product to the horticultural industry.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Olsen Custom Farms, 1355 300th St., Hendricks, Minn. 56136 (www.olsencustomfarms.com).

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2021 - Volume #45, Issue #3